Soon after settlement at Melbourne commenced certain residents became aware of the need for public gardens. In late November 1840 it was also reported that visitors to Melbourne had remarked that, unlike other settlements of the Australian Colonies, there was neither a Domain nor a Botanical Garden here.
In August 1841 concerns were expressed that continuing sales of land in the Melbourne area were decreasing the number of possible sites for a Botanical Gardens. Superintendent Charles Joseph La Trobe was said to be in favour of their establishment and was being urged to act on the matter. La Trobe is subsequently recorded as having made such a request to Governor Gipps during a visit to Melbourne by Gipps in October 1841.
In March 1842 news was received that his Excellency Sir George Gipps had given direction that the formation of a Botanic Garden at Melbourne be immediately proceeded with, and that fifty acres at Batman's Hill be set apart for the purpose. Messrs. Porter, Simpson, and a number of other gentlemen then yet to be named were to form a committee for superintending the progress of the work. It was noted that a number of slaughter houses in the vicinity of Batman's Hill needed to be removed before it would be suitable for public walks. This committee planned to lease part of the gardens for private use and thereby raise funds to defray expenses. It was thought that this would be of great advantage to the inhabitants of Melbourne in the supply of vegetables and fruit, as well as fostering a taste for botanical and horticultural pursuits.
The above announcement caused some consternation in Van Diemen's Land as it was reported "We observe with some little envy, that fifty acres of land has been conceded by Governor Gipps to the colony of Port Phillip for a botanical garden, and that a committee has been appointed to direct its application accordingly; while Sir John Franklin will only allow the poor Vandemonians twenty-five acres! and even in that we dare not put a spade till the College is built, and the two bridges across the Derwent erected."
Little progress had been made by December 1842. Although the fifty acres had been marked out for botanical gardens the committee had not done much to forward their design. This was considered even more remarkable as the committee included active and patriotic fellow-townsmen such as James Simpson, George Ward Cole and David Charteris Macarthur, Esquires.
Even by August 1845 little had been done to construct the botanical gardens. The area around Batman's Hill was still regarded as the intended site, but indications were that there was a shortage of funds for the purpose. Signatures were obtained on a petition to the Legislative Council calling for a sufficient sum of money be placed on the estimates for the ensuing year to establish a Botanical Garden and pleasure ground in Melbourne. A second petition was also prepared by the Mayor of Melbourne and the Town Council, and both petitions were sent to the Legislative Council in Sydney, New South Wales.
On 29 August 1845 Dr. Charles Nicholson moved in the Legislative Council, in pursuance of notice, that £500 be placed on the Supplementary Estimate for 1845 for the purpose of forming a Botanical and Horticultural Garden in Melbourne; the motion was seconded by Mr. Charles Cowper, and supported by Mr. Joseph Phelps Robinson, Dr. John Dunmore Lang, the Colonial Secretary and Mr. Robert Lowe, and carried without opposition. A further £250 was allowed for the ensuing year, to keep it in proper order.
In December 1845 the "Port Phillip Patriot" newspaper reported "The site of the Botanic Garden has been at last determined by the Town Council, who, yesterday, resolved upon selecting the spot on the opposite side of the Yarra, in the immediate vicinity of the proposed new Government House. In reference to this resolution, which was entered into after a most tedious discussion, Councillor Fawkner remarked - 'The garden is to be made near the Government House,' and thus one point is achieved - a good garden adjacent to Government House; and whilst the Government pay towards the expense, they will allow some of the members of the Corporation to assist in the care of the garden."
On 1 March 1846 John Arthur, who had taken an active part in campaigning for the establishment of the gardens, was appointed as the first Superintendent of the Botanical Gardens. He was born c1804 in Dunkeld, Perthshire, Scotland and trained as a landscape gardener, having worked for the Duke of Argyle. He had arrived at Melbourne in 1839 on the "David Clarke" with his wife and children, having played 'Lochaber No More' on his bagpipes as their ship left Greenock, Scotland. The passenger list gives his occupation as 'gardener' and he was soon employed by Captain George Brunswick Smythe for one year at a wage of £80, with rations. This was double the average wage for gardeners at the time.
On 22 July 1846 tenders were called for the erection of the Superintendent's Cottage, botanic gardens, Melbourne, to be lodged by noon on Thursday, 9 August 1846. This was followed on 16 December 1846 with a call for tenders for the erection of a Privy Building at the Botanic Garden Cottage. On 22 March 1847 tenders were called for trenching one acre of ground at the Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
Arthur started work on a fenced-off area of five acres near the corner of Alexandra Avenue and Anderson Street in the area now known as the Tennyson Lawn. Shrubs and trees were planted and flowers grown. It is said that two of the English Elms (Ulmus procera) he planted are still growing there today.
In March 1847 the "Port Phillip Gazette" reported "We have great satisfaction in noticing the progress which the botanical garden is making under the careful superintendence of Mr. Arthur. The part of the reserve now inclosed is already in a high state of culture, and contains the whole of the plants indigenous to the country, and the rarer plants from England and India. The ground is very tastefully laid out, and already forms a delightful walk for persons from Melbourne. In another year this will be a delightful spot."
John Arthur died on 8 January 1849 at his residence in the gardens, reportedly a victim of the River Yarra's polluted water supply. His widow and children moved to Kangaroo Ground where they set up a dairy farm. Two candidates are know to have applied for his position, Daniel Bunce and John Dallachy. Dallachy was chosen on this occasion but Daniel Bunce went on to become the first Curator of the Botanical Gardens at Geelong in 1858.
John Dallachy arrived in Melbourne on 10 December 1848 with his wife and children on the "Torrington" from Colombo, Ceylon where he had been working for a time as the manager of a coffee plantation. He was originally from Scotland and had trained as a gardener at Haddo House, the seat of the Earl of Aberdeen. Following his appointment on 12 March 1849 he spent a lot of his time collecting plant specimens in Victoria and elsewhere. In 1851 a report to the Legislative Council stated that the gardens then contained 5,000 varieties of exotic plants and 1,000 indigenous species. In 1857 Baron Ferdinand von Mueller was appointed to the newly created position of Director of the Botanical Gardens though Dallachy continued to collect specimens for them. Dallachy died on 4 June 1871 at Rockingham Bay, north Queensland.
The well known 'Separation Tree' (top photo) is located in the Botanical Gardens near the Tennyson Lawn. Many residents of Melbourne are said to have celebrated under this tree following the arrival of news that the Port Phillip District of New South Wales was to become the separate colony of Victoria on 1 July 1851. This is a River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) tree that is thought to be about 400 years old. It is gradually recovering from an attempt by vandals to ring bark it a year or two ago.
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